Many people find themselves in a situation where their dog resource guards. It does not matter if a dog guards, a bone, a preferred sleeping spot, a doorway, or person. Dogs should never be allowed to "own" anything or anyone. Learn why this is a serious problem behaviour that must not be allowed to continue.
Jealous, Possessive, Resource Guarding Dogs; What's Happening Here?
By Margit Maxwell
I frequently get asked for help by owners of dogs because their dogs have turned their households into a war zone. These dogs lunge, snap, snarl at their owners when they don’t want to comply to a given cue They have become a menace in their community because they try to attack other dogs and people that approach them. They also have become very untrustworthy because they try to control the movements of family members (other family dogs included).
These dogs have become little furry little dictators “barking” out the orders to everyone. Over confident dominant dictator dogs like to determine where they sleep, who comes and goes from the house, and they have even claimed ownership of all toys, food, and humans. Does this sound familiar? Has your dog turned into a jealous, over-protective tyrant who fiercely guards his possessions .... including YOU?
Is this a problem? Yes, this is a very serious problem.
Understanding How Dogs View Resources And Ownership
Before we attempt to “fix” this problem it helps to understand the nature of the problem. In the natural social order of the dog world, it is perfectly reasonable and common for a dog with social ranking to get “preferred access” to resources that are viewed and understood to be scarce or valuable. While this behaviour fits our human definition of resource guarding, within the context of environment and societal rules of a canine pack, this behaviour is viewed neither as a problem nor an issue. It is only when this behaviour is removed from its original environment and placed into a foreign and incompatible environment (like human society with all of its rules) does this behaviour suddenly become a problem.
Make no mistake, a dog in human society that resource guards and manipulates humans to guard “his” property is a very volatile and dangerous dog because he will do what he deems necessary to protect his property. But we humans have to understand that from a dog’s point of view, by resource guarding, he is not doing anything wrong or unnatural. Unfortunately, trying to convince a dog to stop a natural behaviour can be a long and challenging process.
Stopping The Behaviour
We cannot fix a problem unless we understand it and how it was created. Albert Einstein wisely pointed out that a problem could not be fixed on the same level where it was first created. So that means that in order to fix the dog’s behaviour issues, owners must first recognize and define the problem, understand how this situation came to be, what part they played in its creation, and how they continue to reinforce the behaviour. Then owners make a commitment to their dog and to themselves to think, believe, act, and choose differently. If they do not, they only serve to continue nurturing the very behaviours that created this problem in the first place.
Sadly, many owners are in complete denial about how they could have possibly contributed to this problem. No one is really thrilled to hear that they created a mess (consciously or unconsciously) with their dog. While understanding why this is happened is important, it is equally important to focus on what you as an owner can do to fix this problem.
Defining These Issues
When it comes to these behavioural issues jealousy, resource of guarding, and over-protectiveness are not really interchangeable terms. The basis for their existence are related and rooted in commonality, but they are separate issues. There is a point where these separate issues do overlap and intersect with each other. At times this can make it difficult to know which behaviour issue you are actually dealing with.
The Jealous Dog
Can a dog be jealous? Yes it can. As it applies to dogs, jealousy can be defined as envy or coveting something or someone (“You have it and I want it” OR “You have it and I really don’t like that you have it.”). Dogs can be jealous of new people or other dogs entering into “their” territory, home, or family unit. They can be jealous and demand your undivided attention if they feel that they do not have it or no longer have it.
Jealous dogs do feel like they should be the main of focus of your attention because most likely at some point they were initially the center of all of your attention. If you lavished and indulged your dog with disproportionate amounts of constant attention and then you stopped for some reason, your dog now resents this change.
If you brought a new person or dog into the home that now also get your attention, then your dog may show jealousy. The basis for this behaviour is rooted in the dog’s belief system that goes along with this situation where he believes, or is lead to believe, that you are his property and no one else should have access to you.
The Over Protective Dog
Unless there is a truly real physical threat of danger, like a charging dog or an actual physical threat from a human, there is nothing in your environment that would require your dog to "protect" you. Generally, dogs that are believed to be over protective are actually displaying behaviours that are controlling, possessive, and jealous. What these dogs are actually doing is Resource Guarding you.
When these dogs try and keep other dogs or people away from you, this is not done from feelings of great love or affection for you as much as it is done from feelings of guarding something they consider to be a valuable or scarce resource. In a nutshell, these dogs are sending a message to all interlopers to stay away from you because you are their PROPERTY and they “own” you. Their behaviour is shaped by the thought, “ I have this resource and I am afraid that you will take it away from me” or “ This is mine and I will not allow you take this resource away from me.”.
The Resource Guarding Dog
As already mentioned, in nature, it is perfectly natural and normal for a confident and dominant dog to take and keep possession of items regarded as having high value without there needing to be a fight over it. The attention and affection of a human is considered by dogs to be a valuable resource. While natural Resource Guarding may be considered to be a naturally occurring situation within wild dog packs, it is not something should be encouraged or allowed within the dynamics of the human society or within the human family unit as it tends to result in dog bites and dog fights.
Sorry, This Is Not Love
Sadly, many people really have a hard time coming to terms with the idea that their behaviours and choices have helped create this problem in their dogs. Countless people have made up epic stories of love, loyalty, and heroism displayed by their dogs as an explanation for their resource guarding behaviours. There are dogs who have genuinely protected their owners during situations of true great danger but the guarding behaviours commonly seen in most homes has nothing to do with the need to protect and owner from danger. There is no danger. The only danger that exists is in the mind of the dog who does not want to lose a possession.
Worse yet, many people, while they admit that their dog’s “protective” behaviours causes them no end of problems, are still quick to reinforce the behaviours because they secretly are enamoured by or enjoy the idea of their dog protecting them out of a sense of great love or loyalty. Some people thrive on the feeling of the special attention they get from their dogs. Unfortunately, this kind of attention is not healthy or balanced and unless it is corrected and re-balanced, will end badly for you both you and your dog. These guarding and aggressive behaviours will not remain contained to isolated situations and will spread to other areas of your dog’s functioning. Your very protective dog will eventually end up trying to dictate all areas of your life and he will do it through growling, snapping, snarling, and biting at you.
The reality is that dogs can respect you, be loyal toward you, and even “love you” without needing to keep everyone and everything away from you. Resource Guarding, Jealousy, and Possessiveness have nothing to do with affection. This is nothing more than an expression of being in an unbalanced relationship with your dog where he does not recognize or respect you in the leadership role you and he there has been no relationship bond forged between the two of you. Instead of being respected as a leader, you have been relegated to a lower position and allocated to be one of your dog’s possessions.
Behavioural Signs That Your Dog May Be Possessive, Jealous, or Dominating With You
It is important to be able to interpret the signs of these behavioural issues. Many people misinterpret them and miss the signs and as a result they do not realize the seriousness of their dog’s behaviours.
Do you see your dog displaying these behaviours?
Situational Aggression against:
-Humans (children, partners or guests).
-other family dogs or pets.
- approaching dogs.
Generalized aggression or guarding of:
-food (resource guarding including empty bowls).
-fear (fear causes him to automatically resort to aggression).
-toys (resource guarding)
-Furniture and sleeping places (resource guarding)
-territorial aggression (guards yard, house, or crate against anyone entering HIS territory).
The dog also:
- is over protective, possessive, jealous or guards a particular human against other people or dogs.
- has no respect or regard for other family members.
-defies or rebels against cues issued by owners.
-does not observe personal space of humans by repeatedly jumping on them, climbing on them, stepping on them, pushing against them, or leaning hard on them in an effort to control them or their movements.
-uses their body, muzzle, or teeth on humans to move them, herd them, or control their movements.
- steals food off human’s plate, hands, or off counters surfaces.
-tries to control people and his immediate environment by excessive whining, growling, snarling, snapping or biting.
-uses demanding, pushy, or obnoxious behaviours to get his way.
-marks his territory outside and inside the house using urine or feces.
-domination of humans and dogs by mounting them.
It is true that all dogs can display one or two of these behaviours at one time or another especially while they are young and still learning. Also, recently adopted dogs may be totally lacking in training and may also initially display these behaviours. But if you continually see your dog displaying a number of these behaviours you may well be dealing with a jealous, over-protective, possessive, fear aggressive, guarding, over confident and dominating dog.
Crate Training Tips
by Margit Maxwell
Once you have chosen the correct crate for your dog you are ready to start preparing for the actual crate training process. Crate training should be done gradually so it gives your dog time to get used to the idea of the crate. If you just place the dog into the crate and shut the door, your dog will probably panic and associate the crate with terrible memories of being locked up for reasons that he cannot understand. It is much more difficult to retrain the dog using Desensitization and Counter conditioning than it is to train to the crate correctly the first time.
Making The Crating Experience Pleasant
One way to entice them into their crate is to begin placing their food dish in the crate and start feeding their meals to them inside the crate. You can start by placing the dish near the front of the crate so the dog can stand just outside the crate to eat his food at first. Everyday move the dish a little further back until eventually he has to fully enter the crate in order to reach to eat from their dish. Remember, the door of the crate stays open for now.
Handy tip: *Did you know that if the only place your dog gets anything to eat is in his crate, that this will eliminate many of the issues associated with begging for food, stealing food from plates, or counter surfing issues? If food only comes to them when they are in the crate then it removes the reason to look for food outside of the crate. *
While they are being desensitized to the idea of the crate, by adding comfy blankets and their favorite toys in the crate you can help your dog make pleasant associations with being crated. At first, do not close the door to the crate. Allow them to come and go as they please to give them time to get comfortable with the idea of the crate.
If your dog is resistant about spending time in his new crate, try draping the crate with a blanket or large towel to make it feel more den-like and cozy. Watch your dog to help identify what his likes and dislikes are. The important thing to understand about crate training is that you are teaching your dog to associate being in his crate with pleasant things. Without these pleasant associations the dog will not want to be a very willing participant in this practice.
Begin Adding The Cue CRATE
As the dog gets used to being in the crate you can start adding the verbal cue CRATE as your dog is entering the crate. When you are placing his food dish into his crate or placing a treat into his crate, issue the cue, CRATE.
In my house food is only given when all dogs are lying calmly in their crates. When I say CRATE, you have never seen dogs move so fast to get into their crates. They are practically tripping over each other to get to their respective crates. Even Skylar ,who is only 12 weeks old, goes to his crate when he sees the other dogs in their crates. I am not sure if he fully understands why he should be in his crate, so for right now, he is just copying what the big dogs are doing. But through consistency and repetition, Skylar is learning a new concept.
Handy Tip: * In multi dog households, feeding dogs in their crates removes many problems and issues associated with resource guarding, competition for food, and reduces eating and food related anxiety. *
Closing The Crate Door
Once you notice that your dog has begun to voluntarily spend time in his crate, you can begin closing the door. At first, close the door but do not fasten it shut. A good time to begin doing this is when the dog is eating in his crate, sleeping in his crate, or is other wise occupied with another pleasant activity. Give him as much time as he needs to become comfortable with seeing the crate door closed. Dogs that are being re-trained to a crate will need a lot more time to get comfortable with associating the crate with pleasurable thoughts. This is a process so give your dog as much time as he needs to feel comfortable with this process.
The Process Of Learning To Be Crated
Once your dog has had a chance to become desensitized to seeing the crate door closed, it is time to work on the process of making him comfortable with you fastening the crate door closed. This is a process so move through the steps slowly. If you found that you have moved too fast and your dog is anxious do not introduce anymore new steps to this process until your dog becomes comfortable with it.
The Steps For Crating Your Dog
- Begin with tossing a treat into the crate for your dog. Issue the cue CRATE. When your dog goes into the crate, close the crate door. Do not leave your dog yet. Feed some more treats through the bars of the crate and praise your dog. Do this exercise for a few minutes and then open the crate door BUT do not allow your dog to come charging out through the open crate door. Get your dog into the habit of waiting for the release cue OKAY, before exiting the crate. This helps to anchor the understanding that crating is done on your terms, not his. Crating ends when you release him from the crate and not before.
- Repeat this step often until your dog is very comfortable with being in the crate and knowing what to expect including understanding that the crate door will eventually open for him.
- Each step of this process builds on the previous step. For the next step, after your dog is in the crate and has been given treats through the bars, take a few large steps away from the crate. Wait for a minute and then return to the crate and give the dog a treat. Now release the dog from the crate. Practice this step until the dog is very comfortable with seeing you back away the crate.
- Now, practice this step this time adding duration to the process. Increase the time that you are standing away from the crate. Each time come back to release the dog from the stay in the crate. Work your way up to several minutes. Eventually work your way up to sitting in a chair for while while your dog is in the crate.
- Now add distance to your dog’s stay in the crate. Keep slowly moving back further from the crate each time returning to release your dog from the crate.
- Now add disappearing around the corner out of sight for a few moments. Return to release the dog from the crate.
- Now add duration to how long you are out of sight of the dog. Return to release the dog from the crate
- Eventually you will work your way up to walking out the door for a few moments ( letting your dog hear you open and close the front door, jingle keys, getting your coat etc. The purpose of this step is to desensitize your dog to the crate door being closed, to your absence, and to hearing the sounds of you leaving the house. Work on this step by adding duration of how long you are outside and how long the dog is in his crate with the door closed.
There is no set formula for how long it takes for a dog to become comfortable with this process. Some dogs adapt easily, some dogs take longer. Dogs that are being re-trained to the crate will take much longer to become comfortable with the process. Be consistent and practice the process frequently.
The Issue of Whining Or Barking While Being Crated
At some point during this crate training process you will most likely encounter some whining and barking done in protest over the confinement. How you handle the situation will make a huge impact on how future crating attempts will go. Remember to keep the length of the crate stay appropriate to the dog’s training. Simply shutting the dog into the crate and leaving him to howl for hours on end is not acceptable, nor advisable.
You have three ways that you can handle this issue of a dog protest :
1. You can stay in the room and ignore the barking and whining until it is time for the dog to be released from the crate. Make sure to release the dog ONLY during a lull in their vocalizations otherwise you just reinforced the bad behaviour by giving him what he wanted. If you consistently and totally ignore the noise many dogs will eventually get the message that carrying on will not get them released from the crate.
2. You can use a cue like SSHHH to correct the behaviour. Make sure that you do not speak or interact with the dog in any other way otherwise you are giving the dog your attention and it will serve to mark and reinforce the very behaviour that you are trying to stop.
3. Say nothing and remove yourself to another room. Eventually many dogs figure out that it is pointless to vocalize since there is no one to complain to and their barks and whines are not getting them released from their crate.
Be consistent about how you respond to your dog’s protests. If you give in once, the dog quickly learns that he just has to persevere and he will get his way. Stand your firmly in your resolve to allow this process to take its course. Do not give in to the demands of your dog.
- Be consistent in your expectations and the way in which you handle this issue. If you sometimes expect him to stay in his crate and other times you give in to his demands, then you have taught your dog that if he just applies himself, he can decide for himself what he can and won’t do. You be the leader and you be the only one who makes the rules.
- Let your dog out of the crate when he is actively whining or crying. Wait for a lull in his protest and then release him. If you release him while he is whining, you just marked this behaviour with a reward (being let out of the crate).
- Drag, push, pull, or force your dog in or out of the crate. This will only serve to make him dislike his crate or be afraid of the crate.
- Use crating as a source of punishment. If you punish the dog by locking him in his crate, he will associate the crate with those negative experiences and emotions and you will have lost the use of the crate as training tool.
- Do not crate a dog simply because he requires attention and you are not willing to give it to him. Dogs, especially Huskies and Malamutes, love being a part of the family. To frequently relegate them to a crate just because you will not interact with them is very unfair to the dog and will cause behaviour issues to be created. If you find yourself with consistently not enough time to give your dog the time and attention that he needs, please reconsider your situation and evaluate if you have adequate time for a dog in your life. If it turns out that you do not have the time to adequately meet your dog's needs, then rehoming the dog to a home where people can give him sufficient interaction to keep him happy and feeling loved may be kindest thing you can do for this dog.
* Do NOT attempt to crate dogs that have extreme separation anxiety until their issues have been addressed and resolved. Do NOT continue to crate dogs that are panicking, become so visibly stressed that they drool heavily, or dogs that become aggressive when they are confined. Seek professional help for these behaviours*
How Long To Crate
Once you have gone through the process of crate training and your dog is comfortable using his crate, the issue now becomes for how long should a dog be crated? Ideally dogs should be crated for as few hours as possible. Crating for more than 4 or 5 hours at a time is not recommended.
You can make their crated time more pleasant by:
- Giving them adequate vigorous exercise right before they need to be crated.
- Making sure they have adequate mental stimulation for the time they are crated.
- Making sure that the duration of their crate stay is appropriate with their age and level of maturity.
- Have someone come in to let the dog out during the day for bathroom breaks and to help break up the monotony of being crated for the whole day.
How To Use Crating As Training Tool
Toilet Training Puppies and Mature Untrained Dogs
If you crate train correctly, your dog should not eliminate in his crate. So for those times when the dog cannot be directly supervised, placing him in the crate will prevent toileting accidents from happening in the house. Make sure that you set your dog up for success by making sure that he is toileted directly before is crated to make his stay more comfortable.
In the case of puppies, make sure that you are mindful about how long puppies can be safely crated and also long puppies can hold their bladders. Dogs and puppies can be crated over night to keep night time toileting accidents from happening. At night, a dog’s body processes slow down (including digestion and elimination) and they are able to go for longer periods of time without needing to eliminate. But keep in mind that young puppies will not be able to make through the whole night because of their small bladders.
Crate Training To Keep Puppies and Dogs From Destructive Chewing
When puppies and dogs are unsupervised, inside or outside, they will chew to keep themselves occupied. If no one is there to correct the behaviour or no one is there to notice and stop the behaviour, some of your belongings are sure to become destroyed to dog chewing. It is far more challenging and time consuming to retrain a dog once it has made a habit of destroying items than it is to prevent him from ever starting this habit in the first place. Crate training the dog when it cannot be directly supervised (at least until the dog is established and trustworthy) is wonderful way to keep your house and yard from being destroyed by your dog.
Crate Training To Keep Puppies and Dog Safe While Unattended
Both dogs and puppies can get themselves into a lot of trouble when they are not directly being supervised. Often times it is not just about the destruction that they can cause it is about keeping them safe from chewing and swallowing things that could make them sick or worse, cause them to die. Rather than risking their health, why not crate train the dog and keep it safely confined for those times when they cannot be directly supervised, especially in the case of young puppies and newly acquired adopted dogs who may not have any previous training in these matters.
Puppy Crating Time Guidelines
If you are crating a puppy, please be aware of these guidelines for how long it is advisable to crate young puppies.
If your puppy is 8–10 weeks old, then crated time should not exceed more 30–60 minutes.
If your puppy is 11 – 14 weeks old, then crated time is 1–3 hours.
If your puppy is 15–16 weeks old, then crated time is 3–4 hours.
If your puppy is 17 weeks or older, then crating for 4–5 hours is permissible.
Crate Training: For The Short Term Or For The Long Term?
Crate training can be used as a short term tool until a dog is trustworthy enough to be left in the house while unsupervised but crates can also be used in the long term as an everyday part of life for dogs too. In my household, crate doors are left open for dogs to come and go as they like unless I have to leave, then dogs are crated. I find that with multi-dog households, there is often one ring leader who’s curiosity and bravado gets them into trouble and the other dogs are apt to follow their lead. At my house, Angel would certainly be that dog. My dogs are used to being crated and they show no anxiety, fear, or resentment about being crated. I plan my day accordingly making sure that dogs are exercised before they need to be crated and I NEVER leave dogs crated for more than 4 hours at a time.
Crates, whether they are a short term fix or a long term plan, can be a wonderful tool to use with our dogs.
Margit Maxwell- A Dog Trainer (CPDT) and Canine Behaviour Specialist for The Divine Dog Project. She lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with her Herd of two Siberian Huskies (Kaya and Angel) and an Alaskan Malamute (Skylar). She also has credentials in Psychology (Human and dog), Animal Sciences, Natural Medicine, Energy Medicine, and many alternative Healing Modalities.